Air Force Bases

Titan II at Davis-Monthan AFB

The Army established operations at Davis-Monthan in 1940, and during the war, the base supported bomber training operations. In the post-war period, Davis-Monthan fell under the command of the newly formed Strategic Air Command (SAC).

On April 20, 1960, the Fifteenth Air Force announced selection of the base to support a Titan II missile wing. As with Titan II base construction at Little Rock and McConnell AFBs, the Corps of Engineers Ballistic Missile Construction Office implemented a "three phase" concept in an attempt to alleviate "concurrency" problems that had plagued earlier Atlas and Titan I construction projects.

Three companies (Jones, Teer, and Winkelman) combined to bid $27.7 million and received the contract for the first phase of construction, which included the access road, pit and shaft excavations, and blast lock door installation. Groundbreaking was on December 9, 196O. With first phase operations moving forward, second phase operations began on July 13, 1961, as Fluor Corporation and its subcontractors began installing the supporting electrical, fueling, and other auxiliary equipment. Fluor had won the contract by submitting a low bid of $35.6 million. The sites were prepared for the final phase by mid-December 1962. The Martin Company handled phase III missile installation and checkouts.

As with previous projects, hazards faced the workers who built the huge underground structures. During the first two phases, five workers died in construction accidents and many more were injured.

Labor strife also disrupted construction. Between 1962 and 1964, 20 work stoppages occurred, resulting in 1,758 lost man-days of work. Yet, given that over 1 million man-days of labor were expended during the course of the project, the days lost to work stoppage were minimal.

Charges of waste and inefficiency brought three staff investigators from the Senate Preparedness Subcommittee, chaired by Senator John Stennis, to Davis-Monthan during the first week of August 1962. The subcommittee would later conclude that the cost-overruns experienced at Davis-Monthan were comparable to those experienced at the other two Titan II bases due to design alterations during construction and inexperience with this type of project.

The January 1, 1962, activation of the 390th Strategic Missile Wing (SMW) marked the first standing up of a Titan II missile wing. Its two component squadrons were the 570th and the 571st Strategic Missile Squadrons. Launcher locations for the 570th SMS were at Oracle, Three Points, Rillito (4 silos), and Oracle Junction (3 silos). The 571st SMS silos were located at Benson (2 silos), Mescal, Pantano, Continental (2 silos), Palo Alto, and Three Points. On March 31, 1963, site 570-2 (Three Points) was turned over to SAC for operational use. Additional silos joined the SAC inventory until November 30, when the 18th and final Titan II went on alert. The 390th SMW became the first operational Titan II missile wing in the Air Force.

With a requirement to keep all 18 missiles on alert status around the clock, mainte-nance personnel often put in 80- to 90-hour work weeks. Eventually, response times to act on maintenance problems were loosened to allow crews to react during normal working hours. Maintenance did ease at the end of 1964, as the Davis-Monthan silos became the first to receive "Project Green Jug" treatment entailing the installation of dehumidifier equipment that eased corrosion problems within the silos. Additional modifications would be made to increase missile reliability, survivability, and reaction time. Also toward the end of 1964, the 390th SMW underwent the first operational readiness inspection for a Titan II unit.

On January 25, 1965, Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey toured complex 571-l. One month later, the 390th SMW performed the first operational launch test of one of its Titan IIs at Vandenberg AFB, California. Many more successful tests followed. Competing in SAC's first ever missile competition called "Project Curtain Raiser" in 1967, the 390th SMW garnered the first "best crew" trophy. Since 1967, the Wing earned many additional accolades at these competitions which became known as "Olympic Arena."

In October 1981, President Reagan announced that as part of the strategic modernization program, Titan II systems were to be retired by October 1, 1987. Deactivation began at Davis-Monthan on October 1, 1982. During the operation, titled "Rivet Cap," the missiles were removed and shipped to Norton AFB, California for refurbishment and storage. Explosive demolition began at the headworks of missile complex 570-7 on November 30, 1983. During the following May, the last Titan II at Davis-Monthan came off alert status. Two months later, SAC deactivated the 390th Strategic Missile Wing.

After removal from service, 17 silos had reusable equipment removed by Air Force personnel, and contractors retrieved salvageable metals before destroying the silos with explosives and filling them in. Access to the vacated control centers was blocked off. Some of the properties were then sold; other sites are retained by the Bureau of Land Management.

Local aviation enthusiasts associated with the Pima Air Museum won Defense Department approval in 1984 to set aside one silo for permanent display. The silo at Green Valley was retained by the Air Force and leased to local government for use as the "Titan Missile Museum." With a training Titan II missile in place, the silo is maintained by a dedicated organization comprised of volunteers from nearby retirement communities. The site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the only surviving sample of a Titan II installation. In addition to the launch complex and missile, the museum obtained auxiliary support equipment for display.

Besides preserving the Green Valley site, Davis-Monthan's relationship with missiles did not end with the removal of the Titans. The base served as a training facility for the BGM-109G Ground Launched Cruise Missile (GLCM) during the 1970s and 1980s. At the time of the signing of the December 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the training facility hosted 2 training missiles and 27 training launch canisters.

Eventually, after the closure of Norton AFB, the Titans returned to Davis-Monthan for storage.

For general information on Davis-Monthan AFB look here.